Life after the London attacks

2006-07-07 07:19
<b>A British Transport Police officer patrols the refurbished King's Cross Underground station with his sniffer dog. (Lefteris Pitarakis, AP)</b>

A British Transport Police officer patrols the refurbished King's Cross Underground station with his sniffer dog. (Lefteris Pitarakis, AP)

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London - One year after the London bombings, Rachel North is still trying to live a normal life, despite the fear, the nightmares, and the haunting memories of the victims' cries.

She was less than four metres away from Germaine Lindsay on the morning of July 7, 2005 when he blew himself up inside a Piccadilly Line subway train deep beneath central London, killing 26 and wounding 340.

Lindsay, 19, was among four British Muslims who carried out suicide bombings on three London Underground trains and a double-decker bus that day, killing a total of 52 others and injuring some 700 - in the worst terrorist incident ever on British soil.

Protected by other bodies

"It was very crowded," recalled North - the nom de plume that she uses on her weblog, Rachel from North London (rachelnorthlondon.blogspot.com) - in an interview with AFP.

"I was protected by the other bodies. If it was a normal train, I would be dead."

The night of the bombings, she recalled what had happened on a London website, then on BBC Online, which led to a dozen-odd survivors contacting with her, which then led to a fateful meeting in a pub.

Support group

Thus was born King's Cross United, an informal support group that today numbers about 100 survivors, young and old, British and foreign, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, straight and gay.

They have one thing in common - they were on the same train, in the tunnel between King's Cross and Russell Square stations, when Lindsay's rucksack bomb went off.

They created a secure website, for their own use, to exchange messages, and they continue to meet in a pub once a month.

"Some feel that they aren't allowed to complain because they have their legs and arms," said North, a 35-year-old with bright eyes and long brown hair.

'Hearing the cries of the dying'

"But it's very difficult to wake up screaming at three o'clock in the morning, hearing the cries of the dying. Very difficult to feel sick when you smell fireworks."

"We try our absolute best every day to get back to normal, and when we go to the pub, you don't have to pretend anymore you are somebody else. It may help... I know it does."

North recalls how, five days after the London bombings, she got back onto a Piccadilly Line train, at the same time, full of fear inside her.

"I was blown up on Thursday," she said. "On Tuesday I was back on the train. I'd been in a job three weeks, I had no choice at all. When you escaped with your life, the last thing you want is to lose your job."

The London bombings was North's second close brush with death: in July 2002 she was raped and beaten by a man who left her for dead.

Sales director for an advertising agency by day, she writes "Rachel from North London" at night, and in the process she has become something of a spokesperson for the survivors.

Public inquiry

She also campaigns tirelessly, with others like her, for a public inquiry into the London bombings - an idea that Prime Minister Tony Blair's government has resisted.

The objective would be to understand, she said, as she drew a line between the London bombings and Blair's decision to take Britain into the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

"To blow me up because of Iraq is bloody unfair," she said. "I was at eight demonstrations against war in Iraq."

She voted for Blair in the past, but would not do so again.

"We're on the frontline," she said. "Tony Blair conducts his own life behind barriers, he travels in an armoured vehicle, never in the Tube (subway). We are collateral damage."

Future

North, the daughter of an Anglican Church minister, is engaged to marry a lawyer next year, but she finds it hard to look into the future.

"I'm not thinking 15 years ahead, I'm one year ago," she said. "What matters for me is to go home and kiss my fiancé without crying. If I can do that, it's already a lot."

As for the suicide bomber who changed her life forever, North refuses to give in to hate or anger.

"He doesn't exist," she said. "If I was angry, what would be the worst thing I would wish for him? To blow him to pieces? He's dead. If I go around being angry I become like a terrorist. Hating is a waste of my time."

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